Important Drawings from the Collection of Duncan MacGuigan
At once medium, technique, and process, drawing provides an optimum portal through which to apprehend the sweeping innovations of postwar American and European art. All of the preeminent artists of the period were accomplished draftsmen, and the moment saw the establishment of drawing as a category in its own right. These are not marginal, prepatory, or minor objects, but stand-alone, wholly realized works.
Artists have long gravitated to drawing for a host of formal and practical reasons. Drawing is more immediate, spontaneous, portable, and affordable than painting or sculpture, and as such provides an arena for the working through-and working out-of questions of method, style, and subject matter. These questions took on a new urgency at mid-century, in the wake of Abstract Expressionism and before the burgeoning of Pop art. Conventional distinctions between representation and abstraction were definitively abolished, the scope of traditional subject matter vastly expanded, and a variety of new techniques-including collage, assemblage, and chance procedures-brought to bear on artistic production. In this selection of works of pencil, crayon, ink, charcoal, gouache, and watercolor on paper, we witness these pivotal developments with a candid intimacy not possible in any other format.
In the case of the two artistic lions of mid-century, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, the dividing line between painting and drawing is nearly impossible to mark. Lee Krasner, commenting on her husband's 1951 exhibition at Betty Parsons Gallery, said that the work "seemed like monumental drawing, or maybe painting with the immediacy of drawing-some new category" (quoted in B. H. Friedman, Jackson Pollock: Energy Made Visible, New York, 1972, p. 182). Pollock's oeuvre contains approximately seven hundred works on paper, and the artist considered his drawings as indispensable as his paintings. Indeed the formal triumph of the drip paintings-the freeing of line from its usual functions of bounding form, outlining contour, and distinguishing figure from ground-was inspired by and reiterated in Pollock's experiments with the automatic writing and doodling of the Surrealists. The biomorphic webs, geometric notations, calligraphic lines, and allover dynamism of Untitled, 1947 prefigure the resplendent expanses of Number 1, 1948 and Autumn Rhythm, 1950.
Drawing was also fundamental for de Kooning, who often sketched on canvas with charcoal before, during, and after the application of paint, and regularly tore up drawings for use in other drawings or paintings. The small size of Woman, 1951 nonetheless conveys the monumentality of the female form that de Kooning would work and rework in his eponymous paintings; it also suggests two of his most enduring pictorial innovations: the coincidence of surface incident with the hint of deep space (suggested by the window-like rectangle at right), and the embrace of serendipitous effects (signaled by the red dotting in the lower part of the image). De Kooning's sinewy, sensuous lines in turn emblematize John Elderfield's assessment of Richard Diebenkorn's drawings: "Each work on paper is a prolonged meditation on what drawing can accomplish at the threshold of painting" (The Drawings of Richard Diebenkorn, Houston, 1988, p. 52). Diebenkorn used drawing as a tool in his ongoing negotiation of representational boundaries, from the lyrical abstraction of Untitled (Berkeley), 1954 to the dense figuration of Untitled, 1960-65.
Postwar work offers a staggering array of examples of what drawing can do: from serving as a foundational element in Robert Rauschenberg's medium cross-pollinations to carrying the emotional weight of color in Sam Francis's abstractions; from enabling the excavation of personal iconography in Gorky to evoking sculptural mass from the attenuation of line in Giacometti. Experimental, diverse, and deeply inventive, postwar drawing holds a critical key to postwar art. This was a moment when the process of creating an art work was often part of, and as significant as, the work itself, and nothing testifies to the essential vitality of process so much as drawing.